Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vives, Johannes Ludovicus
VIVES, JOHANNES LUDOVICUS (1492–1540), scholar, was born at Valencia in Spain on 6 March 1492, the son of Ludovicus Vives and Blancha Marcha his wife. The family was distinguished on both sides, his father tracing back his descent to Vives del Vergel, an illustrious inhabitant of the ancient city of Denia in the province of Valencia; while his mother belonged to a family of the neighbouring town of Gandia, which numbered among its members several poets of good repute (Majan, vol. i. pp. v, vi, 8). John's studies commenced in his native town, where his chief instructor was Jerome Amiguetus, a staunch defender of the old learning against Antonio Calà Harana del Ojo, better known in literary history as Lebrija. His maternal uncle, Henricus Marcha, also read with him the ‘Institutions’ of Justinian. From Valencia, in order to carry out his studies, he repaired in 1509 to Paris. The passion for dialectics was there at its height, and he endeavoured to perfect himself in the art under John Dullard and Gaspar Lax, but the narrow bigotry of his teachers disgusted him (De Canis, ii. 361), and about 1512 he betook himself to Bruges. Here the tranquil air that pervaded the city, the urbanity of the citizens, and the excellent municipal administration so completely won his affections that he determined to make it his residence, and, according to his own statement, more than fourteen years of his life were spent within its walls. We hear of him, however, as again in Paris in 1514, where, in the month of April, he printed his ‘Christi Triumphus.’ From Bruges he went for a time to Louvain, where in 1518 he compiled his treatise ‘De Initiis, Sectis, et Laudibus Philosophiæ.’ In the following year he again visited Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Budæus, while his dislike of the ‘Obscurantists’ found expression in one of his most notable productions—the ‘In Pseudo-dialecticos.’ About this time he became acquainted also with Erasmus, whose attention had been directed by Thomas More to the high merit of Vives's writings.
On 5 May 1520 Vives received his license to teach, and proceeded to lecture before the university at Louvain. He lectured, he tells us, chiefly on Cicero, Pliny's ‘Natural History,’ and Virgil. Among his pupils was William of Croyes, archbishop of Toledo from 1518 to January 1521–2, and during that brief period Vives's chief patron. Erasmus, overweighted with the arduous task of preparing a new edition of the works of St. Augustine, now sought the aid of Vives, who consented to write a commentary on the ‘De Civitate Dei.’ The mere restoration of the text was a work of considerable difficulty, and while thus occupied he was attacked by an illness which necessitated his return to Bruges. During his stay the city was honoured by a visit from Henry VIII of England and his queen Catherine of Aragon [q. v.] in July 1521, with More, just knighted, in their train. The queen had already bestowed a pension on her illustrious countryman (Opera, ii. 960), who was now presented to the royal pair. In the following September Vives returned to Louvain. Writing from thence to Erasmus in July 1522, he forwards proofs of the last five books of his commentary on the ‘De Civitate,’ together with the dedication to Henry, and solicits his friend's criticisms and corrections (Erasmi Opera, ed. 1703, Epist. dcxxx. vol. iii. p. 720). The dedication was graciously received by Henry, who in his letter of acknowledgment (24 Jan. 1523) refers in flattering terms to the services rendered by Vives to learning, and promises him his aid whenever occasion might offer. The death of the cardinal of Croyes in the preceding year had already deprived the struggling scholar of his chief patron, and he now determined, in response to the royal intimation, to push his fortunes in England. In the course of 1523 he landed in this country, and was received at court with marked favour by both king and queen, and also by Wolsey.
In the meantime the ‘De Civitate’ had appeared at Basel, where it was printed by Frobenius; but the praise lavished by the editor on Erasmus—the tolerance which led him to indulge in the pious hope that even heathens, if virtuous, like Numa, Cato, and Camillus, might find admission into heaven—and certain other laxities in connection with points of doctrine, roused the susceptibilities of the Roman censorship, and eventually the work was placed in the ‘Index,’ with the words ‘donec corrigatur.’ Frobenius reported that the book had no sale; but Vives, in a letter from Bruges dated 10 May 1523, affirms that he is in possession of good evidence to the contrary, and that in London alone thirty copies had been sold.
During his stay in England Vives appears to have resided in the first instance at Oxford, where he had already been honoured by the degree of D.C.L., and had also been made a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Richard Fox's recently founded ‘College of Bees’ (Collegium Apum), as Erasmus styles it when writing to Vives there. The statements of Harpsfield and others respecting his residence at Corpus Christi and his lectureship there are vague and inaccurate, but Dr. Fowler (Hist. of Corpus Christi College, p. 370, see also pp. 85, 87–9) is of opinion that there is no doubt that, ‘in some capacity or other, Vives lectured at Corpus and was at some time an inmate of the college.’ On 10 Oct. 1523 he presented his supplicat for incorporation (Foster, Alumni Oxon. ad nom.). His sojourn in this country was however twice, at least, broken by a visit to Flanders. On 16 June 1524 we find him writing to Erasmus from Bruges, and explaining that he had temporarily left England in order to get married. His marriage took place on 26 May 1524 to a lady who belonged to a family to which he was already related, Margaret Valdaura, daughter of a Spanish merchant resident in Bruges. The marriage was a happy one, and of the lady herself he speaks in terms of highest praise for her many virtues. On this occasion he published one of his best known works, the ‘Introductio ad Sapientiam.’ His second visit was in 1527, when the divorce of his royal mistress was impending. Henry consented to his leaving England only on condition that he returned ‘after the hunting season,’ which Vives explains to have meant Michaelmas (Wood, Letters of Royal Ladies, ii. 202). He warmly sympathised with Catherine in the unjust treatment under which she laboured, and not only wrote in her defence, but was one of the three counsellors of foreign extraction whom Henry permitted her to consult (Brewer, Reign of Henry VIII, ii. 303). He eventually paid the penalty of his boldness by a six weeks' imprisonment, and on his release was forbidden to appear again at court (Majan, Vita, p. 99). On his liberation he declined the perilous honour of appearing as one of Catherine's defenders in the court of the Roman legate, and the queen, highly displeased, withdrew his pension. He retired to Bruges, where his wife appears to have been resident, and there resumed his occupation as a teacher and the studies in which he especially delighted. For the next three years (1528 to 1531) his means were extremely narrow, and he suffered severely from the gout. It was, however, the period in which his best literary work was given to the world. In 1529 he dedicated to Charles V his ‘De Concordia et Discordia in Humano Genere,’ a work breathing the spirit of a highly enlightened philanthropy, forgetful of its own misfortunes and neglect. This was followed in 1531 by the three treatises on which the reputation of Vives as a thinker and philosopher mainly rests, and which, in the opinion of Dr. Hermann Schiller (Lehrbuch d. Gesch. d. Pädagogik, p. 116), transmitted to succeeding generations more novel and original views on the subject of education than did all the scholars and humanists who represented the same movement among protestants. These are the ‘De Corruptis Artibus,’ the ‘De Tradendis Disciplinis,’ and the ‘De Artibus.’ The complete work was dedicated to King John III of Portugal, who acknowledged the compliment with a munificence as princely as it was timely.
In 1536 we find Vives again in Paris, whither he had gone in response to an invitation to deliver a course of lectures before the university. In the following year he was at Breda in the train of the Princess Mencia de Mendoza, and here he composed a commentary on the ‘Bucolics’ of Virgil. His last days, passed at Bruges, were devoted to the composition of his treatise ‘De Veritate Fidei Christianæ.’ He had scarcely completed it when he was carried off by fever (6 May 1540) at the age of forty-eight. He was buried in the church of St. Donatian, the patron saint of Bruges, and twelve years later his widow was laid by his side. A monument to the pair was erected by her surviving sister Maria and her husband.
Vives was the author of a number of works on devotional subjects, theology, grammar, philology, rhetoric, philosophy, law, politics, and history. A full classified list is given in Majan's edition, which is the best. It was published, with an elaborate life of the author, at Valence, 1782–90, in 8 vols. 4to, and is entitled ‘Johannis Ludovici Valentini Opera Omnia, distributa et ordinata in Argumentorum Classes præcipuas a Gregorio Majansio, Gener. Valent.’ In his critical labours the editor is largely indebted to the earlier edition by Nicholas Episcopius, in 2 vols. fol. Basel, 1555. The later edition is, however, far from complete, and does not contain the commentary on the ‘De Civitate Dei,’ of which the best edition was printed in two vols. Frankfort, 1661. For an account of the bibliography of Vives's writings the ‘Mémoire sur la vie et les écrits de Jean-Louis Vives’ by A. J. Namèche, in vol. xv. of ‘Mémoires couronnés par l'Académie royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Bruxelles,’ 1841, may be consulted.
Vives's works have been translated from the original Latin into French, German, Spanish, and Italian. The following translations appeared in English: 1. ‘An Introduction to Wysdome …,’ translated by Sir Richard Morison [q. v.], London, 1540, 8vo; other editions 1540? and 1544. 2. ‘A very frutefull and pleasant boke, called the instructiõ of a christen womã …,’ translated by R. Hyrd,’ London, 1540, 4to; other editions 1540? 1541, 1557, and 1592. 3. ‘A Short Summary of Aristotle's Philosophy by J. L. V.’ London, 1540 (?), 4to. 4. ‘The office and duetie of an husband …,’ translated by Thomas Paynell [q. v.], London, 1550 (?), 8vo. 5. ‘St. Augustine of the Citie of God; with the learned comments of J. L. V.’ London, 1610, fol.; another edition, 1620. 6. ‘Tudor School Boy Life,’ London, 1908, a translation by Foster Watson of Vives's ‘Linguae Latinae Exercitatio’ (1539).[‘Vita’ by Majan, prefixed to his edition of Vives; Letters of Erasmus; Tapia, Historia de la Civilizacion Española, iii. 203; and other sources referred to above.]